The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is running a leaner, tighter ship these days, with a continued, aggressive approach to enforcement and an increase in the cost for violations in 2019. With fewer inspections last year due in part to a hiring freeze, inspections narrowed but had a heightened focus, taking a closer look at workplaces and job sites, which resulted in finding an increased number of violations. The focus has shifted for inspectors, who are now incentivized to perform fewer, but more intense, inspections.
Ironically, even as OSHA intensifies its scrutiny, this could mean greater potential for exposure to workplace injuries. If companies aren’t expecting an inspection, since fewer happen overall, they may not take proactive steps to ensure workers are protected from harm. Electrical engineers and contractors should be aware of the possibility of increased risks on the job, due to a lowered expectation of an OSHA inspection, and take appropriate precautions by educating themselves on proper procedures for complete personal protection on the job.
In addition, employers should adjust for OSHA’s changes in 2019. While their workplaces or job sites may have avoided inspection when the agency was leaner and had a narrower focus, OSHA plans to add more than 40 enforcement personnel this year. With more employees and a heightened focus, employers should prepare for more inspections and enforcement the remainder of the year.
Are employers learning lessons after OSHA violations?
Data suggests that despite available evidence of the most common, repeated OSHA violations, the same infractions appear on top 10 lists every year—despite fines, penalties and training. If the data is clear, why do these infractions stay so consistent? Are employers not learning the lessons inherent in training, enforcement and unfortunate accidents?
Recent data indicates workplace injuries are on a slow decline. Rates of worker death are down, partly due to the increased scrutiny of OSHA inspectors. The organization continues to push for changes that result in fewer workplace injuries and deaths, and 2019 will be no different. However, the fact the same violations happen repeatedly can mean employers are not taking the required steps to fix problems and manage risk.
Workers should be aware of and compliant with safety procedures at all times, on every type of equipment they come in contact with, during every shift, every single day, to help lower their risk of injury and accident on the job. If an employer or worksite is not compliant with OSHA rules, you can file a safety complaint online.
Electrocution, hazardous energy and OSHA stats
One item repeatedly on the top 10 list is “Control of Hazardous Energy,” which includes electrocution, one of the “fatal four” leading causes of death on the job. There are 3 million workers who install and service equipment who face these hazards, which account for almost 10 percent of serious workplace accidents each year. Injuries from electrical shock result in an average of 24 lost workdays annually. This is clearly extremely costly from both a personal and professional standpoint, and can have tragic results.
Control of hazardous energy includes following proper lockout/tagout practices and energy control procedures. Employers are required by law to provide an energy control program to protect workers, as set forth in OSHA’s standard.
Further detail about proper steps employers must take to protect electrical workers is provided in OSHA’s 1926 Subpart K – Electrical and 1926 Subpart V – Electric Power Transmission and Distribution, which includes “1926.962 – Grounding for the protection of employees.” These cover de-energizing, order of procedures and other methods of grounding transmission and distribution lines to ensure employees are protected.
In addition to always following proper procedures, continuous training, reading and education are important parts of learning safe practices (and understanding OSHA compliance) as an electrical worker or contractor. EC&M discusses specifics of grounding and bonding of electrical signs in this article, for example, to help reinforce your understanding of when to use an equipment grounding conductor. This article covers grounding and bonding risks of running contact voltage to the ground.